Osteoarthritis is among the most common joint disorders in the world today, with over 80 percent of those over the age of 75 suffering from it. It is also the second leading cause of disability for men over 50.
Although some treatments have been discovered to relieve the symptoms of arthritis, there is no known cure –and those with severe arthritis, generally eventually require joint replacements.
But a significant step has been taken in the effort to reduce osteoarthritis for millions around the world. Using 3D printing, scientists are working to develop a way to print replacement cartilage for those suffering from osteoarthritis.
Dr. Rocky Tuan, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, says that the hope is to develop ways that will make a difference both in the study of the disease and the treatment of patients as well.
In order to create cartilage that works there are three main elements required. Stem cells, biological factors that allow the cells to grow into natural cartilage, and scaffolding to give the tissue shape. Tuan, together with his team, has worked to develop replacement cartilage that comes from the patient’s own stem cells, which can then be added directly into the joint. The 3D printing process involves printing the cells in a solution that retains its shape and provides necessary growth factors.
While 3D printing has been used before to produce cartilage, Tuan’s methods will avoid using UV lighting which can be harmful to the living cells, and will instead use visible light. Tuan’s goal is to eventually refine the technique so that doctors can print new cartilage right where it’s needed.
The team is working towards combining their 3D printing method with a nanofiber spinning technique which they developed previously. They hope that combining these two methods will provide better scaffolding, allowing the creation of artificial cartilage that closely resembles natural cartilage.